Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Open Wrap

Based on previous U.S. Opens at the Olympic Club, there was never a time last weekend when I wasn’t thinking something out of the ordinary was going to happen late Sunday in San Francisco. After all, history was on the side of another surprising Olympic finish.

The 2012 U.S. Open had its sub-plots unfold in a rather bizarre fashion starting with Tiger Woods. When he grabbed the 36-hole lead it appeared that based on his history at the majors, this would be the elusive 16th major championship that Woods has been seeking for several years. When leading a major after two rounds Woods had been basically unbeatable.
However, Tiger stumbled badly and fell five shots off the pace. Ironically, Woods’ record in majors when trailing after 54 holes is 0-45. So, it then became predictable that Tiger was toast.

Lee Westwood appeared to be in a great position to finally win his first major on Sunday. He was just a couple of shots back and made a move early in the final round to close the gap. The Englishman appeared cool, calm and ready to collect a major title that he really deserves. Then all of a sudden what looked like a pretty good tee shot-got stuck in a cypress tree. Westwood lost his ball and two shots. He was never again heard from on Sunday. Westwood is still golf’s greatest player in the modern era, never to have won a major.

Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach a couple of years ago. The likeable Irishman plays well in northern California because the weather conditions often resemble that of his native Northern Ireland. McDowell has great nerves and is a fierce competitor. On Sunday, he slipped midway on the front nine when he bogeyed four of five holes after sharing the 54-hole lead.

I never figured you could count McDowell out. He proved his worth on the grand stage at the 2010 Ryder Cup when his match determined the outcome and he took out Hunter Mahan at Celtic Manor. McDowell hung in there on Sunday. He bounced back on the back nine and when he made a birdie at 17, he was only one shot out of the lead.

McDowell hit a great second shot into a front left pin placement on 18. He had a 20-footer downhill to tie for the lead. But, curiously he and his caddy totally misread the putt and McDowell was relegated to the role of runner-up.

Then there was little known Michael Thompson. I am still not sure who this guy is, but he kept moving up the leaderboard on Sunday. He had a chance to get to +1 for the Open on 17, but missed a short uphill birdie putt. You knew that if he made that putt, Thompson would probably somehow, at the very least, find a playoff on Monday. Based on past history at Olympic, Thompson could have replaced Jack Fleck as the most unlikely Olympic Open champ.

And then there was Jim Furyk. Solid, poised and a former major winner, he seemed primed to win his second career U.S. Open on Sunday. Hole after hole, in typical Furyk fashion, pars were being ground out. This was an Open where pars could produce a victory and Furyk seemed to have everything under control. Until, he reached the par 5, 16th hole.

This was the hole that measured 670 yards all week and had been dubbed one of the longest in U.S. Open history- until Sunday when the USGA inexplicably moved the tees up 100 yards. Furyk hit a three wood off the tee and snap hooked the shot deep into the trees. He went on the make bogey and fell out of the lead.

All over the United States this weekend when players snap hook a shot, their fellow competitors will probably say, “He Furyked that one.” Too bad that will be Jim’s legacy in the 2012 U.S. Open because he played great for 69 holes. But, after that errant shot on 16 he was finished. It was a collapse of great proportions on the final three holes and it once again demonstrated that pressure can affect the world’s greatest players.

And the last man standing was Webb Simpson. He set a U.S. Open record by vaulting past 29 players in the final 36 holes. That was the greatest comeback in Open history in terms of the number of players that a winner had passed in the final two rounds.

Ironically, it was another Simpson, Scott (no relation) who won at Olympic 25 years ago in 1987. On top of that, Webb Simpson attended Wake Forest University on an Arnold Palmer scholarship. Palmer lost the most heartbreaking Open of his career in 1966 at Olympic when he blew a seven shot lead on the back nine. Palmer eventually lost to Billy Casper the next day in a 18-hole playoff.

Simpson became the third straight American to win a major championship joining Keegan Bradley (PGA) and Bubba Watson (Masters). It was the 22nd win for an American in 26 PGA Tour events this season. Webb also became the 15th different winner in the past 15 major championships.

So, to say that the unexpected again happened at Olympic would be an understatement. Simpson and his wife, Dowd, are expecting their second child in a few weeks and this could force him to miss the British Open.

Okay, let’s put that into perspective. That would be expecting the expected? Way to go Webb! See you in September at the Ryder Cup.    



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